Irritable Aging Cats

By: Carol Hurst, LVT

Houston, TX

Published July 2016

Kittens are cute and cuddly balls of energy. Every new experience is a joy in itself. As they age, kittens turn into our steady and aloof companions; they are calming fixtures in our lives. With modern medicine advancing, cats are living longer. Once they age, many people describe cats’ personalities as irritable, moody or just plain grumpy.

Do cats have a midlife crisis?

Many cats manifest this grumpiness when they aren’t feeling well. It is easy to assume our strong and silent friends are not affected by ailments. Just like with other pets (and people) as they age, their body goes through changes. Here are some reasons a cat may be perceived as grumpy.


Arthritis is pain and inflammation of the joints. This is one of the most common causes of ‘Grumpy Cat Syndrome.’ Arthritic changes can happen gradually and affect one joint or many joints. Since the changes can be gradual, arthritis isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. Your cat may have arthritis if you are noticing the following symptoms:

“My cat growls/scratches/bites when I try to move him while he’s laying in his favorite spot.”

“My cat just doesn’t like when I try to pick her up anymore.”

“My cat doesn’t like to drink out of the bathroom sink faucet anymore.”

Or, for particularly painful cats, “My cat has started going potty outside of the litter box.”*

Arthritis affects mobility because motion becomes painful. Cats suffering from arthritis stop moving or prefer not to be moved. They might not jump onto counters or beds anymore. Or if they do, they may use several “stepping stones” to get from one place to another.

What can you do? See your veterinarian about options for pain relief.

Dental Disease

Just like people, pets can have a lot of the same types of dental issues. Saliva mixes with food and bacteria. Dental bacteria can cycle through the bloodstream and deposit in the major organs, and this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problems it can cause to the oral cavity and teeth. It’s vital for your pet’s health to address dental disease signs promptly. One of the treatment options includes professionally removing calculus, which is a material formed by food and bacteria. This procedure requires the pet to be under anesthesia. What can you see with this “grumpy” cat with dental disease?

“My cat is acting picky about his food. I’m thinking about changing it.”

“My cat likes to drool sometimes.”

“She doesn’t like my hands around her face.”

“My cat has terrible breath!”

There are many options for dental care at home. However, once a cat’s teeth have a certain amount of disease, only a professional dental cleaning by a veterinarian can help restore health to the mouth. Consult with your veterinarian for how to proceed with your cat’s oral health.


The health effects of obesity are well researched in both animal and human medicine. Its impact goes beyond the strain that extra weight places on the major organs and joints. What can you see with an obese cat?

“My cat is so lazy! He never wants to play anymore.”

“The hair on my cat’s back is matted and greasy.”

Cats who have extra weight to carry around can seem lazy or slovenly when in reality they don’t have the energy to move around. Cats who carry around extra weight are also less flexible. Their gleaming coat can deteriorate, as they can’t reach certain areas to keep them clean. It is no surprise that this would make the fastidious feline seem irritable.

Work with your veterinarian to establish a healthy diet. There are many highly-effective prescription diets that work well for weight loss.

There are many conditions that can make cats feel poorly. A cat that doesn’t feel well isn’t going to act like they used to. Older cats that appear to have some sort of personality change should be checked by a veterinarian.

*Inappropriate litter box habits can be a symptom of many different types of medical conditions. If your cat is eliminating outside the litter box, consult with your veterinarian.

Carol Hurst, LVT, is a graduate of McLennan Community College who lives in Houston, Texas. She works at ABC Animal & Bird Clinic.

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